How can turning points facilitate change among care-experienced youth?

Roberts, L., Scourfield, J., & Taussig, H. (2022). Insights into turning points from the perspective of young people with out-of-home care experience: Events, impact and facilitators of change. Developmental Child Welfare, 4(4), 237–252.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Evidence suggests that out-of-home-care (aka care-experienced) youth have an increased risk of mental health issues, substance/alcohol abuse, homelessness, and justice involvement compared to the general population. They’re also more likely to make less money, be less engaged, and have poorer educational outcomes.
  • Brady and Gilligan (2018) argue that examining turning points can help people understand how an episode, life event, or transition influences someone’s life trajectory.
  • Despite this promising finding, there’s still a lack of evidence on this subject for care-experienced youth. This is coupled with the fact that current studies’ scope, focus, sample, and findings vary.
  • This study explored the turning points that have altered the behaviors and perceptions of young adults who participated in a longitudinal study during pre-adolescence.
  • Four in five stated that they experienced a turning point. A majority of them perceived these turning points to be positive.
  • Although the concept of “turning points” are vague, the sample data supported current research findings.
    • For instance, it proves that turning points are associated with personal reflections & positive relationships, and achievements & actions.
  • Participants referenced subjective and objective changes.
  • Turning points stem from extended processes and specific events.
  • Both significant and ordinary events play influential roles.
  • Discussing turning points with youth can encourage them to reflect on their support, accomplishments, and progress.
    • Doing so can boost aspirations & self-esteem, as well as support agency development. It can also reassure youth that they have the necessary tools to overcome hardships.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Young people with experience of out-of-home care have usually faced significant adversities whilst growing up. Adults aged 18–22 from a Western US state, who were part of a longitudinal study and originally recruited when in out-of-home care, were asked whether they had experienced a major turning point that changed the way they thought about something or how they behaved. Four in five reported having had such a turning point and the vast majority saw theirs as positive. A qualitative overview is provided of themes from these responses. Turning points were linked to actions and achievements, positive relationships and resources, and personal reflection. Reference was made to both objective and subjective change and turning points arising both from specific events and from extended processes. Some seemingly mundane events and interactions had a powerful impact. The findings suggest the on-going potential for care-experienced children and young people to have turning points, despite past adversity and current challenges. Opportunities need to be offered to support the development of agency, bolster self-esteem and aspiration, and offer reassurance, so that in the event of future adversity, care-experienced young people might have the personal resources to navigate and create meaning.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This paper sought to make a much-needed contribution to the evidence base, whereby young people explicitly discussed and reflected on their experience of turning points. While it is important to note that 1 in 5 reported not having a turning point, the concept appeared to resonate with the majority of young people in our sample. As a result, our findings provide valuable insights into the nature of turning point events and experiences, their perceived impact, and the people and resources facilitating change.

Despite the ambiguous nature of the concept (Legewie & Tucci, 2019; Reimer, 2014), young people’s data were remarkably consistent with the range of ways turning points have previously been interpreted and applied by researchers. For example, the data revealed turning points linked to actions and achievements, positive relationships and personal reflections (Drapeau et al., 2007). Young people referenced both objective and subjective change (Reimer, 2014) and highlighted the potential for turning points to arise from specific events (of varying significance), or as extended processes (Gilligan, 2009; Refaeli & Strahl, 2014). Mechanisms of change similarly captured the importance of individual agency, as well as the influence of relationships and resources (Hass et al., 2014).

In light of the relatively underdeveloped evidence base in respect of turning points for care-experienced young people, we hope the findings will encourage further study. The concept of turning points was understood by young people and they were able to confirm or refute its resonance within their own lives. Pillemer’s (2001, p.127) assertion that turning points are “concrete episodes that are perceived [our emphasis] to suddenly redirect a life plan” lends particular support to direct engagement of young people who are best placed to consider what, if any, events and experiences impacted on their trajectories. As has been apparent from our data, there is potential for seemingly mundane events and interactions to have powerful impact. In addition, our data revealed nuances in experiences and interpretations that may not have emerged without the language of turning points.

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